Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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All together now! Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can... against two bad guys?
He'll have to, because Sony confirms that Paul Giamatti is in talks to play the thick-skinned nemesis Rhino for 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, expected to go into production in February. It had already been announced in November that Andrew Garfield's Spidey would be tangling with Jamie Foxx as classic villain Electro, with Dane DeHaan on board as Harry Osborne, a.k.a. The Future Hobgoblin. Shailene Woodley has also been announced to play Mary Jane Watson, previously portrayed as a Broadway hopeful by Kirsten Dunst in Sam Raimi's trilogy. That now leaves Felicity Jones as the only cast member who's role hasn't yet been specified.
Marvel introduced Rhino to their Spider-Man comics in 1966. Unlike Spidey, the Lizard, or the Sandman, Rhino is not a mutant. He was originally the product of an Eastern Bloc engineering project to graft an impenetrable artificial hide to a Soviet soldier''s skin. When wearing the hide, the subject would be all but invincible, capable of deflecting bullets, withstanding extreme temperatures, and able to crash through walls like a juggernaut. To aid in his quest to smash things and look as goofy as possible, he'd wear a horn atop his head. No surprise that comic writer Mike Conroy called him "one of Spider-Man's dimmest villains."
In his battles with Spidey and Hulk, he was decidedly a Cold War Era villain. He was even known to team up with Hulk's nemesis, The Abomination, who was the antagonist of 2008's Ed Norton yawner The Incredible Hulk. You know what that means: crossover! Okay probably not. Actually, in recent years, with the Cold War having receded into the history books, Rhino has been portrayed in a more sympathetic light, and has even teamed up with Spider-Man on a few occasions.
Paul Giamatti has made no secret about his desire to play Rhino in the past. In a May 2011 appearance on Conan, he all but pitched Sony to play the role. "He looks like a rhino!" Giamatti said. "Why would I not want to do that? He would run into stuff real fast and smash into it...I think I would be the best Rhino possible."
This does raise an age-old question, however: how many villains is too many? In fact, you could argue that there's never been a great comic book movie that features more than one nemesis for its superhero. Tim Burton's Batman franchise, which initially honed in with laser-focus on Jack Nicholson's Joker, unraveled when both Catwoman and the Penguin (and maybe even that creepy Christopher Walken character) battled the Caped Crusader in Batman Returns. (To say nothing of the multiple evildoers in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.) Raimi's Spider-Man franchise itself melted down when it decided to have three villains for its third installment. Or four, if you count Evil Emo Spider-Man, who literally punches Mary Jane in the face after dancing his way through a cabaret. The reason why these films don't work is pretty simple: with more villains the plot invariably becomes more complicated, the characterizations for each of the baddies are watered down, and the battles become bloated and excessive. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will have a lot of history to overcome if it's to reverse this pattern.
What do you guys think? Excited about the prospect of Giamatti playing the Rhino? Or would you rather, if Giamatti were to take on any future comic book project, for him to get his Harvey Pekar on again with a sequel to American Splendor?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: WENN]
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Cameron Diaz, Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Jackman, Shakira, Ben Kingsley and husband-and-wife team William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman are among a glittering list of names who will be awarded stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009.
The hot list also includes Kyra Sedgwick, Kenny 'Babyface' Edmonds, Tim Burton, Ralph Fiennes, the Village People, John Stamos, bands Rush and the Miracles, as well as Disney character Tinkerbell.
Twenty-five celebrities have been approved by a committee and will be presented with their stars provided they agree to attend a presentation ceremony within five years and pay $25,000 to cover the cost of protecting the star.
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